02 February 2010

Julie Bindel's dangerous transphobia

by CL Minou writes frequently on feminist and transgendered issues. She blogs at The Second Awakening 

Beatrix Campbell was wrong – refusing to give Bindel a platform is not censorship. It is the right reaction to her hateful views

I don't much care for Julie Bindel, unlike Beatrix Campbell, who defended her on this site yesterday. That does not mean I don't admire her. As a feminist whose radicalism would probably surprise her, I appreciate Ms Bindel's advocacy and the genuine good that has come for her work against violence directed at women. Yet in her long, lonely crusade against transsexuals she contradicts three of her own three feminist principles:

1) Gender is a social construct and malleable – unless you try to change yours.

2) Biology is not destiny – except men are always men and women are always women.

3) Bodily autonomy is something all women struggle for – but not something trans women are competent enough for.

4) Misogyny is evil – unless it is directed at a trans woman, even if, as is often the case, no one knows she is trans.

Indeed, what is astonishing about Bindel's writing on transsexuals, which has been published in the Guardian, is how often it resembles the diatribes of anti-gay bigots: the disregard of our own voices, the disbelief that transness is anything but a degeneracy, and the general air of condescension and paternalism.

Gays and lesbians have long known that such diatribes are not merely "offensive," but dangerous – as is transphobic writing like Bindel's, and for the same reason: they support social attitudes that have often proven deadly for trans people. According to the Transgender Day of Remembrance web site, 130 people were murdered in 2009 simply because they were transgendered – and those were only the deaths that were reported. Like gay and lesbian people, trans people face the very real threat of violence every day simply for being themselves. Very often, even in places where legal protection exists for gays and lesbians, no similar protection exists for trans people.

That Stonewall, an organisation named for riots that were led in part by a trans woman, Sylvia Rivera, should honour a writer with such disdain for the transgendered was a profound insult. Its action deserved protest, but protest is not censorship, as Campbell argued. Neither is the NUS applying its "no-platform" policy to Bindel nor other groups who no longer want her to appear at their functions. This is more a sign of an evolution of the modern feminist movement away from its historic transphobia towards an inclusive model; one that, as Laurie Penny puts it, "...holds that gender identity, rather than being written in our genes, is an emotional, personal and sexual state of being that can be expressed in myriad different ways that encompass and extend beyond the binary categories of 'man' and 'woman'".

Like any woman, a trans woman experiences having her anatomy scrutinised, commodified, and criticised; her appearance criticised for being either too masculine or too feminine; and is told repeatedly how her gender disqualifies her from many positions – all before she transitions. Afterwards, she is subject to both the misogyny that all women face plus the added prejudice faced by trans people, sometimes from the very organisations who exist to help women in need. We are neither dupes nor Jake Sully-like avatars of the patriarchy: we are just ordinary women and men facing the same problems of other women and men.

It is my guess that neither Campbell nor Bindel would have a problem with the NUS refusing someone a platform who had frequently published homophobic writings, even if they had done other good works. Both, I suspect, would happily write about and protest against such a person. Their surprise that the same thing should happen to a person with a long record of public transphobia must thus seem a bit disingenuous – unless you don't think trans people are worthy of human dignity. Which is neither good activism, feminism – or politics.

* www.guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010